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Safe Fun In The Summer Sun

Summer is almost upon us, and nothing is better than getting out and enjoying the many seasonal activities. There is something outdoors for everyone, whether it’s walking down Main Avenue and browsing the shops and restaurants, lying out by the pool, biking, fishing, or hiking the trails.

summer sun

Benefits of Getting Out In The Sun

Being in the sunlight can lift your mood and help relieve the seasonal depression symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), which is associated with the lack of sunlight in the winter months2. Sunlight is important for our sleep cycles and regulating melatonin, a hormone involved with regulating sleep. Being exposed to bright light or sunlight early in the morning starts the melatonin production sooner, helping to improve sleep.5 It also gets us moving! It gets us outside, off the couch, and away from the TV. The benefits of exercise are many: it boosts energy, improves mood, reduces the risk for heart disease and diabetes, and improves sleep1.

Vitamin D is important for bone health. Many older adults are deficient in vitamin D. Osteoporosis related hip fractures can be devastating and debilitating. In addition to getting vitamin D from food or vitamins, our bodies make vitamin D when ultraviolet (UV) rays from the sun hit our skin. You do not need much sun exposure to get enough vitamin D – just 5 to 30 minutes of being in the sun during peak light hours (10 AM to 3 PM) twice a week to the face, arms, legs, or back without sunscreen is enough for most people to make enough vitamin D.

Protecting Yourself From The Damaging Rays Of The Sun

However, too much sun can be harmful to skin. Ultraviolet (UV) rays can damage skin cells, cause painful sunburns, age your skin, and even lead to skin cancer.

Protecting children from the damaging rays of the sun is especially important. Having five or more severe sunburns as an adolescent more than doubles the risk of developing melanoma, which is an especially dangerous form of skin cancer.

One way to protect ourselves is to cover up with hats and clothing that limits sun exposure. Many cars have glass that gives some protection from UV rays. Window tints and films can also be added to car windows to reduce UV rays.4 An added bonus of tinting the windows is that it helps keep the inside of your car cool.

Knowing Which Sunscreen To Use

There is a wide variety of sunscreens available, and sometimes it can be confusing to pick the right one. A sunscreen with an SPF (sun protection factor) of 15 or higher is recommended. If you are going to be active outside, however, and a minimum SPF of 30 should be used. Many cosmetics also contain sunscreens.

All sunscreens will block UV-B rays, which are the most damaging type of ultraviolet rays. UV-A rays may contribute to photoaging and the development of skin cancer; only broad spectrum sunscreens will also block that type of exposure. There are just three sunscreen ingredients that block both UV-A and UV-B: avobenzone, zinc oxide, and titanium dioxide.

Sunscreen For Infant And Children

Because infants’ skin is still developing, it is recommended to avoid using sunscreens on infants under six months old. Instead, these infants should be covered up and sun exposure should be minimized. However, if sun cannot be avoided, a small amount of sunscreen can be applied to exposed areas.

Physical sunscreens that do not contain chemicals are preferred for infants and children. These sunscreens contain either zinc oxide or titanium dioxide. They form a physical barrier against UV rays, and they do not break down with sun exposure like chemical sunscreens8. They also have minimal irritation, sensitization, and skin penetration potential.7 A disadvantage of physical sunscreens is that they tend be greasier, and they can have a slight white residue8.

Physical sunscreens are also great for adults, although you may need to go to the children’s sunscreen section to find them. A favorite that contains zinc oxide is Coppertone® Water Babies®. Using it can keep you safe from sunburn on long hikes in the Colorado mountains. However, the best sunscreen is the sunscreen that you will actually use.

Sunscreen should be applied 15 to 30 minutes before sun exposure, and then reapplied every two hours. More frequent application is needed if you are sweating, being active, or swimming – even if the sunscreen claims to be water resistant.

Pay Attention To Changes On Your Skin

Having regular appointments with your physician or dermatologist to look at suspicious freckles and moles and screen for skin cancer should be an important part of your regular health care. Moles or growths that change significantly, itch, bleed, or do not heal should be checked. To detect suspicious moles, use the acronym ABCDE:

A – Mole is Asymmetric,
B – It has an uneven Border,
C – It is not one even Color,
D – It has a large Diameter (over 1/4 inch, or the diameter of a pencil eraser),
E – Or it is Evolving – changes in size, shape, color, elevation, or any other trait.

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